Normally I would roll this into my 3rd and long piece, but there is too much to make this part of that, so it’s getting its own article.
I’m sure there are more stupid mistakes that I can find, but here are three very glaring ones that may very well have cost the Denver Broncos the game when taken in their aggregate.
Decision # 1:
With the Broncos trailing 13-10 and the ball on the Texans’ 44, the Broncos faced 4th and 9. There were 22 seconds left in the half and the Texans had two timeouts left. The winds were swirling, yet Vance Joseph decided to have Brandon McManus attempt a 62-yard field goal.
Now, I am fairly certain Joseph does not know the success rate of field goal attempts of 60 yards or longer, but I am certain that the Broncos have the money to hire someone who is capable of looking that up (it’s not hard, and I would take the gig if they offered it to me).
But here are the numbers, there have been 12 field goals attempted in Denver from 60 or more yards since 1994 (Pro-football-reference.com does not go back any further). Three of those have been successful (25%). Overall league-wide the success rate since 1994 is 19.1% on attempt of 60 or more so altitude helps somewhat. That being said, there was a 75% chance of failure when kicking from that distance (probably higher if you factor in the wind).
But wait, it gets worse. If you look at when those long attempts were made, the vast majority were with little time left in the half or game. Why? Because if you miss, your opponent gets the ball in great field position.
When McManus missed yesterday, Houston got the ball on the Denver 48 with 18 seconds left, needing about 15 yards to get in range for a high(er) percentage field goal try. You know what happened - they moved the ball 20 yards in two plays, taking a total of 15 seconds of game time and then kicked a 46 yard field goal. Had the Broncos chosen to punt, the odds are that Houston would have just kneeled and Denver would have gone into the half down 3 instead of 6.
Even if Broncos had gone for it on 4th and 9, it probably would have taken more than 4 seconds off of the clock and then the Texans may not have been able to get in range for a field goal attempt. Broncos still would have gone into the half down 3 (and getting the ball back to start the third quarter). Either way, it was a big gamble by Vance Joseph that ended up blowing up in his face.
A gamble that even had Bill O’Brien calling Vance Joseph a “dumb f*$k”.
Down two in the 4th quarter Denver got the ball back with 3:29 left in the game and we driving for what would have been a game-winning FG. The Broncos had two timeouts left, but we were down starters on the offensive line against one of the best defensive lines in the NFL.
Case Keenum completed a pass to Devontae Booker that gained 8 yards making it 3rd and 2 and for some strange reason the Broncos rushed to the line to get a running play off before the two minute warning. Had the running game been working, this might have made sense - an attempt to get the first down before the opposing D was set and still get the clocked stopped - but the problem is that the running game had not been going so well after Matt Paradis broke his leg. Paradis hurt his leg before halftime.
In the second half, Denver ran for 43 yards on 10 carries, which is not horrible, but 33 of that came on two Phillip Lindsay runs. On the other 8 carries we gained a total of 10 yards. So why would it make sense to try and run Booker (who had three total carries) in that situation? Either let the clock run down to the two minute warning and then try your best 3rd down play (which was a throw to Jeff Heuerman most of the game) or run a quick passing play (or play-action pass) in that situation. Either one makes more sense then running the ball, to gain one yard and set up a 4th and 1 - which we converted on a throw to Heuerman.
If this call came in from the coaches, Keenum needed to veto it. It was pretty stupid and could have cost them the game.
Later in that drive on 1st and 10 from the Houston 37, Keenum completed a 5-yard pass to Heuerman who was tackled with 40 seconds left in the game. From some strange reason, Denver decided to huddle and waste 27 seconds of clock here? In the screen shot below we are huddling and there are 22 seconds left in the game.
The Broncos would next snap the ball with 13 seconds left in the game and run the ball up the middle with Lindsay. If you know anything about clock management when you are trailing in a game and trying to score, it should be this - don’t waste time. I have rarely witnesses this level of clock-management ineptitude in an NFL game (although Andy Reid did it a few times when he was in Philly).
The running play that we tried to gain a few more yards, would prove disastrous as it would lose one yard and make it a 51 yard FG attempt. Now, McManus is normally quite good from 50 yards (13 of 24 for his career - 54.2% - prior to yesterday), but as a coach you should always strive to get your kicker closer to make the kick easier if you can.
Had the Broncos managed the clock better, we could have easily gotten in range for a 30- or 40-yard attempt instead of a 50-yard attempt. Let’s say we through the ball on 2nd and 5 and gained another 4 yards. Now we are at the 28 or 29 and its a 45 or 46 yard attempt.
Why does that make a difference? Well, McManus has hit 72.4% of his attempts from 40-49 yards during his career. Could have still had missed from 40? Of course, but as a coach, your have got to try and put your kicker in the best position possible. Wasting 27 seconds of game clock and them running the ball for -1 yards did not do that.
It’s hard to predict what will happen on a given play. As a coach you call the best play for the situation and hope that it works, but I have a hard time understanding how a run up the middle with Phillip Lindsay is the best call on 2nd and 5 from the HOU 33 with 13 seconds left in the game. Connor McGovern was playing center at the point with Max Garcia and Elijah Wilkinson were playing the guard positions.
On that fateful play, McGovern and Garcia failed to block the one down lineman on the Houston defensive front (the other guys were all in 2-point stance). Of course even if they had blocked him, Heuerman lets his man into the backfield as well so this play was doomed from the start.
It seems like if we were going to run there, it would have been smarter to try and run to the edge, but it’s not like we had been having great success running the ball. Even with Paradis in the game, we only gained 32 yards on 10 first half runs and 14 of them came on the Booker TD run.
Houston did to the Broncos what they have been doing to most teams this year, they stopped the running game. Which makes the decision to run the ball there even more questionable. Generally you don’t run in late-game situations when you are trailing unless you KNOW that you are going to get a big chunk of yardage (and be able to stop the clock).
If there were a class on how NOT to manage the clock in a two-minute trailing situation, this would be a great teaching example - and Vance Joseph could teach the class.